The News Tribune logo

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Should Pastors Preach Politics From the Pulpit?

The View From the Pulpit

It is impossible to leave our spiritual/moral values at home when we go to the polls as they make up whom and what we are, but how much of a role in your political decision making does your religious ideology or clergyman play? How much of a role should the Church play in American politics?

Islam, since its inception, has had politics and government as a fundamental part of that religion’s philosophy with the best or worst example being the Revolutionary Government of Iran where it is the clerics, not the elected leaders, who have the real power. It can be argued that Iran’s interpretation of Muhammad’s teachings is inaccurate, but it cannot be denied that the government of Iran is a theocracy.

We’ve only to look at European history to see the similar involvement of the Church in not only politics and government, but in every aspect of an individual’s life that spanned hundreds of years until the Enlightenment.

Are there American rabbis, imams, or other religious leaders preaching civics in their houses of worships? Does your church or synagogue preach a particular political philosophy or pressure parishioners to vote in a certain way? Can clergy by the very act of engaging a congregation in a political discussion influence the decision making process of voters? What risk do we run in the preservation of the separation of Church and State when pastors preach politics from the pulpit? Does the possibility exist that politicians will begin to preach religious doctrine from political offices? Is it already happening?

All these questions began to nag me when a friend forwarded an email from another friend asking for opinions on why it is important to vote and are civics an intricate part of the religions of the world. I was struck not so much by the question of why it is important to vote, but by the fact that this was the topic of discussion for a Lutheran adult education class. Although I was raised as an Episcopalian I have been so long not a part of organized religion that I was amazed that Christian education, whether adult or child, should include civics in its curriculum. When I wore the doily, Christian education was being educated in Christian doctrine, not political ideology.

I believe that it is important to vote because for democracy to function all voices ought to be heard. As citizens of a democracy I believe it is important for us to be educated in the function of government and politics as well as the issues facing the nation at any given time. There are countries that require voting. I cannot decide if I like the notion of anyone being legally bound to participate in politics. In my heart, I’d rather the uninformed stayed home.

So I throw open the floor on the eve of an election, why do you think it is important that you vote and what role do you believe religion plays or ought to play in politics?


Stephanie Frieze said...

This morning the BBC announced that Iran is doing away with stoning as a form of punishment. Whippings will still be allowed. No word on whether Spanish Inquisition methods or burnings at the stake will be instituted.

VW said...

If a cleric tells you from the pulpit to vote for a particular candidate, it not only is unethical (in my opinion), it can put the congregation's tax exempt status in jeopardy. The said cleric has ventured into partisan politics and that is wrong. The so-called wall between church and state has just been breeched.

Issue advocacy is another matter and congregations must tread carefully. When social issues fall in to the arena of what the church considers a "moral issue", it is legal within the tax code for a congregation or denomination to openly advocate one way or the other. Here again, in my mind, churches must be careful to avoid overtly partisan advocacy.

We've seen example after example throughout history where different religions were either the actual governmental authority such as in Iran and what the Taliban seek to spread. Or in past times in Christianity, where the Church was not the actual government, it was the power behind the throne. From such unholy alliances of power comes things such as the inquisition.

On the other hand, when religion is almost completely marginalized, it hasn't worked out well either. Most Communist nations are good examples of that concept.

The bottom line is that churches (Sects, Denominations, etc.) and clerics may favor a particular candidate, but they need to keep it to themselves or campaign as private citizens not officially connected to their faith.

When they advocate on issues, they need to continually evaluate in some objective way whether or not they are crossing any partisan lines.


VW said...

I agree with you, the uninformed should stay home, but there is no objective standard for that. :)

I vote because I think it is the responsibility of citizenship. It is a right that is sometimes all too rare in this world.


Stephanie Frieze said...

Well and thoughtfully stated, VW, on all accounts and I say that not just because I agree with you. Voting is not only a right and responsibility, but a privilage that many have died for and others long for. We are a grand experiment, aren't we?

Lorraine Hart said...


Stephanie Frieze said...

You have history on your side, Lorraine. It is natural that we make our decisions based on our ethical code which includes our spiritual life, but anything beyond "Remember to vote" in the pulpit opens the door to the intolerance of which you speak.